First History Lessons: The People of Our Country


First History Lessons is a series of three books published under ‘Revisiting the Craft of History Writing for Children’, a project by the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK), Kolkata. Explaining complex themes in history to children, it was funded by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS). Published in March 2023, the books in this series are: Itihase Hatekhari: Desher Bhasha (The Languages of Our Country), Itihase Hatekhari: Desher Manush (The People of Our Country) and Itihase Hatekhari: Deshvaag (Partition).

This book, First History Lessons: The People of Our Country, engages with laws of citizenship in India. It has been written by Tista Das, teacher of history at Bankura University, West Bengal. Arunava Sinha has translated this book into English from the original Bengali. The illustrations have been created by Ranjit Chitrakar and Sirajudaulla Chitrakar, patachitra artists from the West Midnapur district of West Bengal.

This 56-page document is divided into 11 chapters which trace India’s citizenship laws and their impact: In the Beginning (Chapter 1); Partition (Chapter 2); Laws (Chapter 3); Infiltrators (Chapter 4); The Citizenship Law of 2019 or CAA (Chapter 5); The National Register of Citizens or NRC (Chapter 6); Assam (Chapter 7); Gangadhar’s Story (Chapter 8); Hasina Bhanu (Chapter 9); Borders (10); And Finally (Chapter 11).

The book presents details on the Constitution of India and the need for its introduction after the partition of the country. It goes on to explain the Citizenship Act of 1955, its amendments and the latest revision in 2019. The book discusses the distinction between ‘infiltrator’ and ‘refugee’, and how it is apprehended. It also lists various sources which have informed the book’s content; some of these documents are: Willem van Schendel’s book The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation on South Asia, Niraja Gopal Jayal’s Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History and Ornit Shani’s How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise.

This book provides a perspective on national history by spotlighting the state’s definition of citizenship. On March 15, 1948, the central government of India asked states to prepare voters’ list so that everyone had voting rights. But, “having the right to vote on paper does not mean everyone is equal,” the book states. For instance, by enacting the Citizenship Act of 1955, and its subsequent amendments, the government has continually excluded some sections of the Indian population from availing the rights of citizens. In that vein, the book also introduces the concepts of the Citizenship Amendment Law of 2019 and the National Register of Citizens or NRC, acquainting them with the everyday implications of these policies, in Chapters 5 and 6 respectively.

The book foregrounds the “people” in its title by including case studies on two individuals: Gangadhar Pramanik in the chapter ‘Gangadhar’s Story’ and Hasina Bhanu in an eponymous chapter. Gangadhar, who hailed from West Bengal’s Bankura district, had gone to Assam in search of work. He was detained in a camp in Assam’s Goalpara because he did not have documents to prove his citizenship. Hasina Bhanu, on the other hand, was labelled a possible “infiltrator” in 1997. When she submitted the documents to prove her citizenship, she was accepted as a citizen in 2016, only to be suspected again in 2021 and detained. The book, thus approaches history through marginalised voices, urging readers to question dominant versions of history.

Focus by Debadrita Saha.


Author: Tista Das

Translator: Arunava Sinha

Illustrators: Ranjit Chitrakar, Sirajudaulla Chitrakar


Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK) and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New Delhi


Mar, 2023